Wednesday, 20 January 2021

Mixed weather so far in locked down 2021

The Safari can't quite believe our last post was way back in early October and we apologise profusely for not keeping you up to date with all the exciting wildlife we've been lucky enough to come across during these somewhat trying times - not least because many of our favourite wildlife sites are well and truly 'out of bounds'.

As regular visitors will know we've been in a regular Photo Year List Challenge. Last year we managed a very credible 205 species of vertebrates and with a little bit more luck could have broken 210. This year is the Challenge's fifth and the rules are the same as last year all vertebrates - no captives, no sub-species - count so we're setting a target of 200. It's a worldwide challenge with most of the participants living in the Pacific NW of the USA and last year's winner and runner-up were both well over 300 a tally we can't possibly hope to achieve so we have our own mini-challenge beat my brother based in NE Italy and Monika the Challenge originator from San Juan Island, we split the two last time with my brother on 200 and Monika on 210.

So off we go with 2021. Icy cold weather early in the month meant sunny days to make the most of during our permitted socially distanced lock down exercise so we had a couple of days out with good friend CR around Marton Mere as well as a shimmy round Stanley Park and almost daily visits to the coast with the mutt.  

Our challenge got off to a predictable start with a stunning Starling along the cliffs

On the return leg we had a peek at the high tide wader roost at the old boating pool and managed to pick out the two Purple Sandpipers, not bad for the second species of the year to be submitted to the SD card. They were sat among the Redshanks and Turnstones quite a distance apart so there was no way we could get them both in the same frame.
Our next visit out was to Stanley Park where we added several more species, pick of the bunch being a tidy Nuthatch.
Later in the week we had our first visit to Marton Mere where the scrub was fairly quiet but the remaining ice-free patch of water was quite lively and included this Great Black Backed Gull, nowt special in that you might think and we do see them every day on the beach but we never saw a single one at the reserve last year - how did that happen???
It was good to see a small flock of Pintails there too, far far less common than Great Black Backed Gull here.
The most birds were at the gloomy shaded feeding station but a big bonus bird there was a pair of Stock Doves, we've never seen them in there in the last 30 years!
Another bonus was a small flock of Fieldfares feeding on the only Apples still left on a tree just outside the reserve.
Our second visit there was on a very frosty morning, lovely to be out even if a bit nippy on the ears and finger-tips.
We came in from the NE corner this time rather than the usual west end, a good move as we bumped into the wintering pair of Stonechats straight away.

At the other end of the east embankment - not quite as cold as the east embankment  at Cley on the north Norfolk coast but not far off today - a Little Egret was at first in the flowing dyke then flew to stand by the frozen flood in the corner of the field.
The white near the tip of its bill is ice/frost that's frozen from when it was in the ditch. When we started birding in the late 60s you'd have to go to the southern half of France in the summer to see these birds.
We didn't do the full circuit as we could see there was only a tiny patch of unfrozen water that was probably not visible over the reeds from the hide so we turned round and retraced our steps. It was then a Bittern got up out of the reedbed we'd just been stood by and flew the length of  mere flushing hundreds of gulls in the process before it landed in the reeds at the far end. We struggled to lock on to it with the camera especially when it was going  through the gulls, this was the only 'usuable' pic out of over 100. It's identifiable so counts for the challenge and a good one to get early on as they can be tricky but not as tricky as that other reedbed skulker Cetti's Warbler that we totally failed on for last year's challenge.

We've had the stealth-cam out at Base Camp and picked up our local Fox which we've seen a couple of times and heard barking in the small hours a couple more.

It's being hopeful that we'd left another Turkey carcass out for it which we hadn't; one Turkey between two over Christmas is more than enough! A few nights each week we do leave a little something out for him/her though, a hard boiled egg, a few dog biscuits, a bit of left over dinner (that doesn't happen often!!!!!!).

Our first dog walk of the morning is before breakfast and it's still not quite light and certainly far to dark for the camera but most mornings we've heard the local Song Thrush giving it some welly his favourite Sycamore tree. Today he was being answered by another just across the green - don't think we've ever heard two singing at the same time here before. We've even seen one twice now early morning foraging on the lawn of a garden two doors away from Base Camp but they are ssoooo rare here barely an annual visitor. However, we have managed to get a pic of one during our last visit to the nature reserve in brilliant sunshine too even if the twiggery made for some tricky focusing.

Our next pic for you is a bit of a fluke from the stealth-cam. Very early in the year a Grey Wagtail dropped in to the garden at Base Camp had had no more than a couple of minutes round the pond. We certainly didn't expect to see another in or over the garden until at least Easter but lo-and-behold reviewing the stealth-cam's SD card look what we found.
So that's two garden records of Grey Wagtail before we got our first Wren - how mad is that! - and brings our Challenge tally to 37...sounds good but some of the American front runners are over 100 already - slow down will yer!!! Stealth-cam is coming up with the goods although my brother has already had Golden Jackal (recently expanded its range into his area) and Wild Cat on his - the rotter!

In previous challenges there's been a bit of a twist, a couple of years ago it was 'no hand of man in the pics' a tricky one, this year it's pics containing multiple species as sort of a sub challenge and more than that unusual combinations of species. So far we've got a couple of contenders.

If the nearby Moorhen, Gadwall and Grey Lag Geese had played ball we could have got double figures in this one
And in this one freezing weather can make for strange bed-fellows.

In not so good news it looks very likely that one of our favourite local biodiversity hot spots is going to built on before too long. Not sure how the developers can achieve 'no net loss of biodiversity' when there's so much there and we suppose there won't even be a single street tree provided on the new estate and if there is it'll be a poor choice of species. We're currently struggling with a bad bout of Eco-anxiety, living in the town with the least open space outside inner London and one of the boroughs with the least tree cover nationally, particularly how much open space and access to nature has been seen to be so important during this pandemic. But hey-ho there's no money to be made in Yellow Meadow Ants, Ploughman's Spikenard and Hedgehogs.

Where to next? If this rain ever stops and the sun shines again we'll be out somewhere local with the camera enjoying our fantastic wildlife, while there's still some to enjoy.

In the meantime let us know who's been stealthily visiting your outback.

Monday, 5 October 2020

A week on safari in Pembrokeshire

The Safari recently had the good fortune to be able to spend a wonderful week of wildlifing in sometimes sunny  sometimes windy Pembrokeshire.

On the way down we spotted a few Red Kites. All except this quite distant one were at places we couldn't stop and pull off the road. Still great to see and moves our Photo Year List Challenge along to 178.

Our next stop was at New Quay famed for its Bottlenose Dolphins which we saw way out in the bay unfortunately far too far away to even think about getting any pics. Just beyond the harbour breakwater a Razorbill floated out with the tide.
Meanwhile a couple of lads fishing next to us were catching plenty of Mackerel for their suppers, giving us Vertebrate #179 for our Challenge - not exactly in its natural habitat is it.

With no joy committing the dolphins to the SD card it was time to move on and meet up with our friend and host for the week RL at his isolated cottage where wildlife abounds. He also knows some super and some fairly secret sites to go wildlifing.

Strumble Head where we headed on our first day out is hardly a secret. We saw plenty of Harbour Porpoises (PYLC #180) and a handful of impossible to photograph Common Dolphins but totally dipped the small pod of Risso's Dolphins that came through just beyond the tidal rip.

The rocky sheer cliffs are ideal for Shags of which we saw quite a few (PYLC #181)

Also at home on the cliffs are those most enigmatic of the crow family, Choughs (PYLC #182)

Out and about during the rest of the week we came across the following species of vertebrates
Palmate Newt

Manx Shearwater


Brent Goose



Brown Trout

That lot took our Challenge tally to 189. we had a chance of getting a bat species or two around the cottage but the plummeting temperatures compared to the previous week meant there was little bat activity. We also had a stealth cam set up along the track through the woods baited with peanuts in the hope that a Badger or two might pass by but again no such luck.

We did get taken to see a well used Badger sett in a place that surely hasn't been trodden by humans since the colossal stones of the impressive Pentre Ifan neolithic burial chamber were put in position.

The capstone weighs in at about 15 tons and is only balanced on the very tips of three uprights - it looks precarious but since it's stood  for around 5000 years so far it probably ain't going anywhere soon! The stones are the local Preseli Bluestone the same stuff that Stonehenge is made from. Makes you wonder what idiot came up with the idea "I know where we can get some great big heavy stones from - don't worry it's not THAT far away" then what about the other idiots who agreed with them "Oh OK we'll go and get them you stop here and draw the plan out on the ground"

Reptiles were high on the wish list too - we always like a scaly thing and RL has an impressive knack of finding them and so it was he found us no end of Common Lizards and two Adders, one of which was soaking up some much needed sunshine right only inches from the edge of a major path yards from the car park.

Taken with our phone

But it was a case of Adders 2 - Others 0 Try as we might we couldn't find any Grass Snakes or Slow  Worms despite several known spots being given a thorough searching.
R's pond is full to busting with Palmate Newts but again the colsd weather was having a seriously negative affect on them resulting in only a few small juveniles being found until the final night when an agult was disvovered climbing the vegetation at the base of a shrub. Clearing a patch of his pond and doing a bit of pond dipping also gave us an eft or newtlet/tadpole.
Juvenile on walkabout

The 'eft' in a Brain Jar

Love those feathery gills

The unspotted chin is diagnostic - see also earlier pic of it being wrangled to show the chin better

In no particular order here are some more pics from our week
Ponies are used to graze the cliffs to break up Bracken and Gorse thickets to provide more niches for wildflowers and feeding opportunities for the Choughs

Strumble Head lighthouse

A random Bar Headed Goose on a river estuary - probably hasn't recently flown over the Himalayas
Horribly distant Kittiwakes
Horribly distant Manx Shearwater - same individual as earlier

Horribly distant Kingfisher but a great spot by R

Horribly distant Brent Geese - there seemed to be a decent proportion of juveniles in the flock which is good

Curlew on the River Teifi

Chough - the same individual as earlier
A bit of welcome sunshine brought out a few butterflies like this Comma basking in an attempt to warm up
Rock Pipit nice and close

Guess who heard the camera!

Female Chaffinch

Flock of Gannets - one such flock of hundreds

Gannet - about the closest one we saw

Five legged Field Grasshopper

Grey Seal - rarer than African Elephants

Juvenile Grey Seal

Knot Grass moth caterpillar

A Land Hopper - similar to the Sand Hoppers found under seaweed on the beach but a terrestrial species, one we've not seen before

Leucistic female Chaffinch - a regular visitor to R's feeders


Little Grebe - they were everywhere, never seen so many in a week before

Marsh Tit

Migrant Hawker

A different one just a few feet away

Phone-scoped Moon - failed miserably to get a pic of Saturn which was showing really well as were Jupiter and Mars - - Dark Skies are a real boon

Old Ash tree - no Tawny Owls in it although there were plenty nearby

Ringed China Mark - a new moth for us - - sadly cold nights prevented us from doing any of the planned moth trapping sessions

Siskin - the first on R's feeders for several months

As with most of the bird feeder photos taken through the kitchen window

Where's all my breakfast gone? - Taken by R

Distant Stonechat - plenty about today but none of them very confiding

Water Buffalo - marshland grazers extraordinaire

And finally Llys-y-fran reservoir at dusk

We hope you've enjoyed our quick spin round Pembrokeshire and the wildlife the country has to offer. Really needed two weeks and a some better weather there's loads of the county we didn't even get close too...Maybe next year.....
Where to next? Some Siberians to tell you about

In the meantime let us know who's chewing all the grass in your outback.
Stay safe stay socially distant and get out and enjoy your local wildlife, it'll do you the world of good.